GARLAND COUNTY, Ark. (KTHV) - Less than a week after the Salt Bowl scare, the famous football rivalry in Garland County is about to be renewed.
Nineteen years ago, school officials put the annual match-up between Hot Springs Lakeside and Lake Hamilton on hold after rowdy behavior by students from both schools.
It returns Friday into a world far more conscious about school security and after gun scare caused the fans at the state’s biggest rivalry game to panic.
“This is about more than football,” said Brian Bridges, the communications manager for Lake Hamilton. “This game is about school pride and school spirit.”
For Bridges, the week of the Wolves vs. Rams rivalry has always been a period of tension and excitement. His grandfather was a coach for Lakeside, but his parents worked for Lake Hamilton, giving him the chance to graduate from the school on the western Hot Springs city limits.
No players on the field Friday night were alive when the last time the two schools played, but with people like Bridges urging them, they will quickly get the idea.
“Growing up, the Lakeside/Lake Hamilton week was always a big week in my household,” he said. “There was the year while living in the Lakeside district, I put up a sign that said “ram meat.” The next morning after our mailbox had been spray painted blue and gold and egged, my grandfather said ‘I’m not mad at them for doing it. I’m mad at you for putting up that sign. We’re in their territory.’”
Bridges’ boss has also seen the Spa City Split from both sides.
“For years I was the assistant coach at Lake Hamilton,” said current superintendent Steve Anderson. “After I hung my whistle up and became a school administrator, my first administrative job was high school assistant principal at Lakeside high school.”
That kind of excitement boiled over in 1999 when vandalism and pranks got out of hand. A change in conference lineups contributed to both sides keeping the other off the schedule. That hiatus lasted 19 years.
“There was some mischief,” Anderson said. “There's mischief and then there's really bad mischief, on the part of both, both schools.”
In light of the Salt Bowl Scare at War Memorial Stadium, when a fight and rumors of a gun being fired sent 38,000 fans scrambling for the exits, organizers of this game are on the lookout for trouble and counting on the fact that Rams and Wolves are mostly friendly in the community.
“Our kids get along pretty good and we're expecting a good night of football,” said Shawn Cook, the Lakeside superintendent who will be hosting the game and has been in close contact with Anderson in the build-up. “We borrowed 200 barricades from Hot Springs Convention Center. We plan on having, we're probably going to have 14 officers here ourselves and Lake Hamilton is bringing six. And then I've heard a lot more than that are coming.”
The Hot Springs fire department estimates the Lakeside stadium can hold more than 16,000 people. If that many show up, they will fnid extra gates and concession windows open.
“We're just trying to do as much prevention as we can and we've had great communication with the Lake Hamilton administration,” Cook said.
"It's a special rivalry,” Bridges said. “It means so much, I know not just to me, but our entire community.”